Six Picks: Recommendations from the Monitor staff

Norah Jones's latest CD, a contemporary 'Alice in Wonderland' on the Syfy Channel, acclaimed Pixar-animated movie shorts on ABC, and more.

Blue Note Records
Pixar Animation Studios
WGBH Education Foundation

Soulful singer

Though she's already being compared with Blue Note label-mate Norah Jones, newcomer Kristina Train sounds more like a rambunctious younger sister, raised on Aretha Franklin and Dusty Springfield records. Her debut "Spilt Milk" is a corker, laced with sweet Southern soul and gospel. Produced in London by the same team that brought us Duffy, Corinne Bailey Rae, and James Blunt, the CD's emotional, octave-jumping numbers would challenge even the most seasoned singer on her best day. Train seems undaunted, as she delivers gem after gem.

A different Wonderland

TV producer Robert Halmi Jr. has made a career of updating and re-imagining classical literature. He's put his stamp on everything from the "The Wizard of Oz" to "Arabian Nights." Now, he puts his particular imprint on Lewis Carroll's classic "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland," in a new, four-hour mini-series called "Alice," which airs on the Syfy Channel Dec. 6 and 7. The modern tale takes a very contemporary American Alice through a looking glass into a hair-raising journey.

Animated winners

ABC Family kicks off its Christmas programming with a two-hour showcase of critically acclaimed Pixar-animated movie shorts. Beginning at 7 p.m. on Dec. 2, such award-winning films as "Geri's Game," the Academy Award-winning best-animated short film, "For the Birds," and "Tin Toy" will be aired, as well as the Oscar-nominated, "Luxo Jr.," "Mike's New Car," "One Man Band," "Lifted," and "Presto." The lineup repeats immediately at 9 p.m., then airs again on Dec. 18 and 19.

Exhilarating ragtime

When "Ragtime" premièred in 1998, it stayed on Broadway only two years and was instantly overshadowed by the roar of "The Lion King." But it's still one of the best musicals of the past decade. This new incarnation, directed by Marcia Milgrom Dodge, sheds the lavishness of the original in favor of a more stripped-down approach. Based on E.L. Doctorow's novel, with a soaring, Tony-winning score by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, "Ragtime" weaves together the stories of three American families facing a turbulent new era at the turn of the 20th century.

Bouncing words

If you're more visual than verbal, will turn your dictionary and thesaurus experience into a colorful game of bouncing balls.

Latin tinge expanded

Jazz pioneer Jelly Roll Morton recognized a century ago a "Latin Tinge" at the rhythmic heart of early jazz, but this bravura public television series, "Latin Music USA" (PBS Home Video) discovers a Latin tinge within many other styles. This four-hour documentary dazzles with major Latin performers refashioning genres as diverse as pop, jazz, hip-hop, and techno. Expert storytelling from Dizzy Gillespie, Reuben Blades, and Ricky Martin synchronizes seamlessly with concert and dance hall footage, bringing to life the visceral excitement of old-school mambo and salsa as well as new school music such as reggaeton.

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